Nino was born 5 days after his due date. I’d also gone into labour at 40+5 with my first baby (although due to a long labour she was born at 41 weeks) so I felt like I’d known he’d come that day.
First time around was not a positive experience and I was very conscious of trying to ensure things were different this time, though also aware that some things would be out of my control.
I had toyed with the idea of giving birth at home, but I felt like it wouldn’t quite work with my now 2.5 year old daughter around, and didn’t want to send her away. So our birth plan was for my parents to look after her in our flat while I gave birth at the hospital.
My main regret first time around was not trying for a homebirth: I was too nervous and thought I’d be better off in a midwife-led room in the hospital, but in retrospect, both the transfer in a taxi and the experience of being in hospital caused stress and I think significantly slowed down my labour, which resulted in a stressed baby, leading to a transfer to the labour ward, more monitors, machines, and stress, and finally a Ventouse delivery on my back with a doctor and 2 midwives all shouting at me to push!
While I know I was/am extremely lucky to have had a vaginal birth with only a second-degree tear, and a very healthy baby (they’d prepped the resuscitation area in the room but as soon as she was out, my daughter was absolutely fine, thank goodness) I certainly felt out of control and quite angry at how her birth developed. It took until now and a second, different birth experience before I could talk about it without tears.
So while to a certain extent I was disappointed that I didn’t feel able to have a homebirth this time around either, we are lucky enough to have a fantastic midwife-run birth centre at our local hospital, Lewisham. This has a homebirth ethos and is staffed by separate midwives from the labour ward, so I felt it was a better option than the midwife-led suite next to the labour ward of a different hospital where I’d been last time.
On Monday 25thof June, at 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant, I walked with my mum to drop my daughter at nursery and headed for a swim. It was the middle of the heatwave and a scorching day of 28 degrees. I had a leisurely swim in the sunlit swimming pool and started to feel like I was having the beginning of contractions. Swimming gave me space to think and remain calm. I reminded myself that I’d already had a baby and that I could do it again. As I walked home across the park in the bright sunlight, feeling very chilled and zen and also hyperaware of all the light and colours, the contractions started to feel more serious, but they eased off as I stopped walking so I was pretty sure I had a good few hours to go. I kept things quiet from my mum and tried to rest in the afternoon; although I was too excited to properly drop off to sleep I relaxed with my hypnobirthing track. I hadn’t done hypnobirthing the first time round and I regret it as it seems to really help in letting the body take over.
I went to pick up my daughter at 3.45pm and walked back home, and it was in the playground at the end of my road that I started to feel my contractions were getting more serious. I clued my mum in and we headed back to the flat. I wasn’t sure at this point whether the baby was really coming or whether I might have many hours more to go. After a 48 hour labour first time around I didn’t want to head to the birth centre too early, but I’d also heard a lot of stories about very fast second births and didn’t want to risk an unplanned home birth! I went into my bedroom, tried some yoga positions, tried to relax, and also kept an eye on the timings to see how regular and how long lasting the contractions were at this point. Roughly every 2-3 minutes, but still only around 30 seconds long was the answer. At 5pm I called my husband: he finishes work at that time but he doesn’t always come straight home. “I was going to stop at that shop where they sell that tahini you like – can I?” he asked. “No – I need you to come back right now!” was my response.
As I waited for him, I debated running a bath to help me relax further and put off the journey into hospital, but I’m glad I didn’t as I think that might have then made us too late to transfer! When my husband walked in we called the birth centre straight away. The midwife on the phone sounded as if she didn’t think it was time for us to come in yet, but I was feeling a tiny trickle of waters by this point and as soon as I said I thought they’d gone she told us to come straight in. We ordered a taxi and said goodbye to our daughter, knowing she was happy with granny and comfortable in her own home.
Waiting for the taxi on the street outside was one of the hardest moments of this labour. It was still very hot and bright and my contractions were becoming really intense. I was pacing, gripping the fence and bending forward when a contraction came – just like last time I felt them intensely in my lower back. (One of the midwives said she suspected this baby was back-to-back, just like my first, although he had managed to turn himself around by the time he was born). We bumped into a couple of neighbours and also my dad at this point, and I was very uncomfortable even trying to talk to people; I just wanted to go into my zone. Similarly, the taxi ride was hard: hot, uncomfortable and I couldn’t deal with the driver’s clichéd jokes about me giving birth on the back seat. I was sipping water through a straw – flexible straws really are useful in labour! I listened to some music on headphones, which was a minor distraction but I didn’t find that helpful really: running through the hypnobirthing track in my head was better.
Eventually we got to the correct entrance and entered the birth centre. I was pacing the triage room in really intense pain by this time. The midwife talked to us, agreed that it looked like the labour was progressing, and asked to examine me. I was gripping the radiator, breathing through my contractions, and asked if she could do it with me standing or crouching: I really couldn’t bear to lie down on my back on the bed. During my first labour, I felt like once I was in that position things just spiralled out of control with multiple staff surrounding me, shouting at me to push, my contractions reducing…and I also felt like they “tricked” me a bit by saying “just lie down so we can examine you and then you can get back up” but somehow once I was on the bed I remained on the bed until my baby was born. I very much wanted to avoid that this time around. At this point it really helped that I had talked to another mother who’d had her second baby in the same birth centre and she had said to me “I didn’t have any physical examinations at all. The midwife didn’t even touch me until after the baby was out.” That gave me the confidence now to ask “Do you have to do the examination?” The ethos of the birth centre is very non-interventionist, and she replied “No, and I can’t do anything you don’t give me permission to do. If you don’t want to be examined, that’s fine.” “I don’t,” I said with relief. A few minutes later she led us to the room where my son would be born.
The midwife piled some cushions on the bed for me and I asked to fill the pool straight away. A nurse came in to do so and as soon as it was filled I stripped off and jumped in. First time around I think I started off keeping some clothes on, feeling a bit self-conscious, but this time I was much more confident to be naked and do what I needed to do.
The contractions were so urgent this time as well that I just had to follow my body. From this point things felt really urgent to me and the contractions were getting longer – a wave passing over my body, intensifying in my spine, forcing loud moaning from me, taking me and wringing me out further and further, way beyond the limits of my breath and energy but somehow I kept going. The midwives were urging me to slow down – they told me not to push and to try to be calm – and I couldn’t speak to explain to them that I wasn’t doing any voluntary pushing, it was all completely out of my control and my body was taking things into its own hands! This was so so different to last time when I felt my contractions kept getting weaker and we had to drag the baby out with brute force.
I remember screaming at my husband for water for my dry mouth and drinking a little hospital sachet of apple juice through a straw. I was having gas and air in the birth pool too. I remember a huge contraction that made me feel the baby must be nearly out and asking the midwife if she could see the head. “on the absolute peak of the contraction I can see maybe 50p’s worth of head” she told me, and I couldn’t believe the baby could be still so high up and out of reach! Again they urged me to take things more slowly, but the contractions were just all-consuming. I was screaming and trying to stand up in the pool (someone it made sense to stretch up, standing through the contraction) and I remember them pushing me down and telling my husband it was really important for the water birth that my bottom half stayed fully under water: it’s dangerous to have a baby half-in, half out apparently!I think I was in the pool for about 50 minutes: I checked the clock once the baby was born and it was just before 8pm, having walked into the hospital around 6.30pm. I had no sense of time at all and it could have been hours for all I knew. As I write this, nearly 8 months on, I am also noticing how hazy my memories of this time are – the brain drawing a veil over the experience maybe!
I found it really helpful to keep reminding myself that I’d already done it once and could absolutely do it again, through the most difficult parts of the contractions. In calmer moments I instructed my husband “Tell me I can do it! Tell me I’ve already done it once!” Anyway, finally the serious contractions paid off and the baby’s head, then body, were out, with a lot of screaming and moaning from me. (This was one of the major factors in not wanting to give birth with my 2 year old daughter nearby. I have found screaming to be the best pain relief in both my labours!)
I remember feeling of the baby’s head crowning vividly, and I was lucid enough to reflect to myself “never again! This is the last time I am ever going to have to do this!”
Suddenly there was a real, solid but slippery baby’s body in the birth pool with us and the midwife was saying “Do you want to lift out your baby yourself?” I grasped him and raised him onto my chest. He was so quiet and calm and didn’t cry – I looked at the faces of the midwives (I think we had 3 people with us at this point, plus my husband) and wondered how they could be so calm and sure he was ok when he wasn’t making any noise – how could they be confident he was breathing? But they were and he was.
The midwife asked us if we wanted to say the sex ourselves. I was so confused that despite looking straight at his little penis I could barely work out that he was a boy (I think I was also expecting a girl so was surprised) but eventually we both managed to say “it’s a boy!” We had already chosen a name – he was Nino. I cuddled him close and the midwife gave him a wipe with a towel which did make him start to cry.
My husband cut the cord, and they emptied the birth pool of water. Somehow I managed to climb out and stagger to the bed, holding my baby and with a midwife supporting the umbilical cord that was still hanging out of me. I wanted to birth the placenta naturally without the injection, just because I felt it went together with doing everything with as little intervention as possible, but it was actually a bit of a pain to be sitting on the lovely double bed with my beautiful baby but feeling so uncomfortable and waiting to go through more birth. It took another hour for the placenta to come and I felt really uncomfortable for that whole time, and had to move into a couple of different positions, giving the baby to my husband, in order to get it to come. As soon as it had I felt so much better. I was checked and had some tearing, but they decided it would probably be ok without stitches. This really helped with my recovery and sitting etc felt so much better much more quickly than last time, with no stitches to pull or irritate.
We were given a couple of hours of cuddling and bonding time before anyone even suggested weighing or checking the baby, which was so wonderful. Knowing how many parents are not so lucky to get that beautiful, calm post-birth time makes me feel very privileged. My husband did skin to skin…I breastfed him and was pleased he latched on well from the beginning. Eventually we had him weighed which confirmed he was an unexpectedly huge 9lb 11oz baby – nearly 2 lbs bigger than our daughter.
We stayed the night in the birth centre, partly because it was a bit late to organise discharge and partly by choice. We had such a lovely room, with double bed, and it was lovely to have a night alone with our new baby before taking him home to meet his big sister and start the challenging task of parenting two children. I am so grateful to the wonderful midwives who helped us to have a second birth experience which was so much more positive than first time around.
I would urge expectant mothers to look into hypnobirthing and relaxation techniques, as I feel that that I was able to let my body take over this time in a way I was too inhibited for first time around, and that led to a quick, smooth (though not calm or painless!) birth.
If you’re low risk, think about whether you could manage a homebirth – as transferring to hospital during labour is really stressful and can slow things down. But there are some wonderful home-from-home birth centres around if you can find them.
Write down any affirmations you might want your birth partner to say – I wish I’d done this!
Drinking straws are genuinely essential for getting water into your dry mouth whatever position you need to be in.
Do your research (the book “Expecting Better” is great for this) and feel confident to say no/question things you are asked to do… although equally if you are told your baby is stressed (as I was first time around) you will want to do whatever is best for your baby’s safety, so don’t blame yourself if things don’t go how you wanted them to. Birth is a complex experience.